This interview took place as part of a larger article about Skotos, a company working on online text-based multiplayer games.
According to Brian, there are similarities between designing games for Skotos and for Infocom. "[Trinity and Skotos's games] are both text, and I love manipulating text in real time. Algorithmic manipulation of text is fascinating, a fascinating problem. And I've never lost my love for it, but I haven't been able to do it much in the past fifteen years, y'know." He laughs. "So now I'm getting to do it again, and I have really good tools for doing it now, so that's terrific."
One of the differences he points out is that production of a game for Skotos is bigger. It involves a team -- a small team, granted, one of about ten people, but a team nonetheless. The Infocom model of one person writing nearly all of the game isn't feasable.
This team size is around the same as that Brian worked with when working on Loom. That aspect of designing graphic adventure games has changed in the years since then. "The new Monkey Island game, that was built by nearly fifty people. The experience of building a big game like that is really different from what we went through building Loom." The costs, too, are much larger, as is the time commitment required. "Loom took, I think it was, fifteen months to write and the new Monkey Island game was a couple of years. It's a different thing."
Will that increase in time and money level off any time soon? Brian isn't sure it will, since the complexity of creating a computer game has in some respects surpassed that of creating a movie. "At least when you make a movie you don't have to reinvent your movie camera and projector every time." Computer game companies have to hit a moving target, have to guess what kind of computer will be common-place two to three years from when they start. "You can't stand still, as Infocom found out. You can't technologically stand still in this business, because if you do you'll be obsolete." And because of these risks, there are only a few companies that dare create graphic adventure games.
At one point in the interview, when I asked him about whether Skotos could make money off of a niche audience, Brian said that he thought so, and that in fact he thought there was the potential for a profitable business in interactive fiction.
"I think there could be profitable IF, but what would be needed is a very hard look at the technology. I note with both delight and chagrin how wonderfully people have managed to emulate the functionality of circa 1985 Infocom technology. However, my calendar says it's 2001. Interesting work can be done with engines like Inform and TADS and many others that I've seen, interesting and important work, but not commercial work."
Why not commercial work? In part, Brian feels that the look and feel of TADS and Inform are not well-suited to the mass market. While he hinted at some specific ideas he had regarding that issue, he declined to elaborate.
He does feel that someone who was truly interested in making money off of interactive fiction could do so. "If someone wanted to monetize that business, I think it could be done but that they would have to really reinvent it at a fundamental level. But having said that, by reinventing I do not mean finding a way to add graphics. On the contrary, then you're not playing to your strengths. You lose that ability to change your mind, not to mention the other wonderful things that text gets you. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"On the other hand, I think a lot more could be done than is being done. Though they're terrific pieces of engineering, and I admire them, the current engines aren't suitable for commercial work. In addition, professional work requires professional playtesting and debugging. When we were doing Infocom, the authors basically wrote their own games, but we had an army of testers making them professional. People playing the games will expect that level which we achieved at Infocom in that regard. And I have not seen that level of polish since Infocom, from anybody. That's not to say that we shipped without bugs, but they were pretty obscure bugs. There were no game-crashing bugs.
"Those are some of the things that need to be thought of. I believe there is a business there. Not a big business, not even as big a business as we [Infocom] had, but I think that a small company could survive and be profitable. In fact, I'm sure of it."